Startup mantra: Giving nanofibres a Covid-safe spin cycle

BySalil Urunkar
Jul 10, 2021 05:11 PM IST

PUNE E Spin Nanotech is a nanotechnology manufacturing firm that pivoted in the face of Covid-19 to startup its movement towards making its R&D keep Indians safe

PUNE E Spin Nanotech is a nanotechnology manufacturing firm that pivoted in the face of Covid-19 to startup its movement towards making its R&D keep Indians safe.

E Spin’s chemical membrane system plant at Bhosari MIDC in Pune. E Spin Nanotech is a nanotech startup that makes Covid masks using nanofibres. (HT PHOTO)
E Spin’s chemical membrane system plant at Bhosari MIDC in Pune. E Spin Nanotech is a nanotech startup that makes Covid masks using nanofibres. (HT PHOTO)

The uses of nano-technology are myriad. From baby products to AC vents to Covid-19 masks, nanofibers are all-encompassing. E Spin Nanotech had an indigenous antiviral, antibacterial mask ‘Swasa’, in the market months before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out

That, however, is not where the story begins.

E Spin Nanotech is not a startup in the typical sense of the term – recently launched, online driven, currently boot-strapped. Its proof of concept, revenue stream and customer acquisition have all been in the works for at least a decade now.

It began in 2010 and was comfortably ensconced in the B2B world of research-led, process driven manufacturing. Its primary product, a nano-fibre spinning machine, was first purchased by IIT Kanpur. IIT Kanpur is key to this company’s “startup” pivot, because the founder, Sandip Patil, is an alumni of the institute; a PhD no less.

Swasa N95 Mask and Covid19 outbreak

The company pivot came without the firm realising it.

“We started working on the Swasa N95 mask in 2017-18. Sunil Dhole, a PhD from IIT Kanpur, Nitin Charhate – also a student of UDCT Jalgaon – who returned to India from Europe to join our team, and Mahesh Katheria were part of our team which worked on the product. These were conceptualised before the pandemic broke out in 2019-end,” says Sandip Patil.

Sandip Patil, founder of startup E Spin Nanotech (HT)
Sandip Patil, founder of startup E Spin Nanotech (HT)

“We designed the mask in such a way that it will be comfortable to wear and easy to breathe in. We used nanofibre technology and successfully made an anti-viral and anti-bacterial mask. It was also certified by the Nelson Labs in USA stating that 99.5 per cent bacteria and virus can be filtered through these masks,” he claims.

“We had launched our mask in August 2018. The Covid-19 pandemic broke out in December 2019. We could provide masks to people during the pandemic. We were able to build trust among users, especially doctors. When we decided to scale our production, we had no means and facilities to do it. IIT Kanpur in June 2020 opened their facility to us. We started manufacturing at the facility with peak production capacity at 30,000 masks per day. Later, we also launched new designs, some designed especially for children,” Patil said.

Oxygen concentrators

Apart from the nanofibre spinning machine and Swasa masks, E Spin Nanotech also ventured into manufacturing of oxygen concentrators.

Patil’s mother was diagnosed with Covid-19 symptoms and was admitted in a hospital in Dhule in February 2021.

Patil said, “Just before the peak of second wave, we realised that there could be an oxygen shortage. I contacted a company and sourced 10 oxygen cylinders per day for my mother. The company used to supply 300 oxygen cylinders in Dhule, of which I used to get 10. I spoke with my team Sunil Dhole and Tushar Wagh, and asked them to work on a portable oxygen concentrator units. We had already procured raw materials and components when the second wave peak arrived. We got support from the central government officials and ONGC also placed an order for 5,000 oxygen concentrators in June 2021, which we are fulfilling now.”

In the beginning

It’s a nano-technology story that among other differentials, illustrates the macro impact of education; from a village school to the hallowed halls of an IIT.

The company is self-sustaining and has not sought any VC investment… so far. “We got offers as high as 50 crore from investors, but, I prefer to go slow on product development and believe that there should be an innovation component in it. Recently, we have decided to take a loan from a bank,” is how Patil explains it.

The setting for this ambitious entrepreneur to enter the cut-throat world of technical and engineering inventions, all nano of course, is a small village named Pimpri (Chimthana) in Dhule district.

Pimpri in Dhule is inhabited by 75 per cent Adivasi farmers.

Patil comes from a family of farmers and has done his entire schooling in a Marathi-medium school. Patil says, “I spent my entire childhood in a village. I started attending school from Class 2 because there was no good school in our village. I was sent to my uncle’s village near Shahada town in Nadurbar district for schooling. We were not very sound economically and hence, I had to work in the farm besides studying.”

Patil’s first taste of entrepreneurship came at a small shop besides his house in the village, where he worked as a youth. “My younger brother and father are still engaged in farming,” he adds.

After clearing his HSC exams, he got admission to the University Department of Chemical Technology (UDCT) Jalgaon, North Maharashtra University (NMU), for a BTech in Chemical Engineering.

“I failed most subjects in the first year and came back home crying and told my parents I am not good enough to complete engineering. I decided to work in the farm,” says Patil.

With a few hours in the fields, Patil felt the “heat” of farming. “That moment I resolved to clear all subjects in my first year of engineering with distinction or first-class,” he recalls.

IIT– a different world altogether

In 2006, Patil got admission for an MTech in Polymer Technology at MS university, Baroda, and then, to IIT Mumbai for one year under a collaborative course.

“I had developed interest in research while pursuing my engineering. However, my family and other villagers were not so aware about what exactly research means. I took keen interest in nanotechnology,” Patil says.

Then came the PhD at IIT Kanpur.

“My family was opposed to me travelling and staying in Uttar Pradesh. It was a different world and culture altogether. All professors spoke English and I could not express myself or any problem in English. I took two years to acclimatise to the culture. The study pattern I had never experienced. I almost failed to get the Cumulative Performance Index (CPI) of 7 which was mandatory for a PhD. In the first semester I got a score of 6, in the second semester I got 6.5, but in the subsequent semester, I got the 7 score and was allowed to pursue my PhD. However, four years at IIT Kanpur transformed me into an altogether different person,” Patil recalls.

Research-led entrepreneurship

Sandip Patil did his PhD under Professor Ashutosh Sharma, who is now secretary, department of science and technology, government of India. While doing his research work Patil realised the potential of the “indigenous product market”.

Says Patil, “Many instruments required for research are imported in India. I realised that I should do something to support the research ecosystem. Since my research was on nanofibre technology, Prof Sharma tasked me with building a machine - electrospinning – a nanofibre spinning machine.”

E Spin engineers at Bhosari MIDC plant in Pune. (HT )
E Spin engineers at Bhosari MIDC plant in Pune. (HT )

Over the next six months, Patil worked on the machine project. “We sourced all materials indigenously and managed to make a lab-scale machine which was working perfectly fine. I did not understand the business angle to it, but the material sourcing experience gave me a fair idea about how to price any product,” he says.

“When I told Prof Sharma that I want to continue my research in nanofibre technology and develop a commercial product for societal benefit, he asked me to immediately start working on the idea. I said to him that I am yet to complete my PhD. He said, ‘don’t worry your PhD will be completed in time’.”

E-Spin Nanotech was founded on November 24, 2010 and the company received its first order from IIT Kanpur itself. “It helped me sustain financially,” Patil adds.


Patil says, “I used some of my earlier savings from my stipend, Prof Sharma gave me some amount and also a few friends contributed. With this financial help, I registered my company and also manufactured the machine. I earned 4.5 lakh from the sale of the machine at that time, but I put that amount into the startup. I had got married in 2006 while pursuing MTech. My wife Jagruti also joined the startup as director. We had nothing to lose. Whatever I have earned is much more than what I could have done otherwise. We didn’t have our own office, but still we hired our first employee. I used to pay him 4,000 out of the total 8,000 stipend I received.”

IIT’s Startup Incubation and Innovation Centre

The Startup Incubation and Innovation Centre (SIIC) at IIT Kanpur played an important role in the growth of E-Spin Nanotech. The Department of Science and Industrial Research (DSIR) under the Promoting Innovations in Individuals, startups and MSMEs (PRISM) scheme granted a fund 4.5 lakh to E-Spin Nanotech in 2011.

Says Patil, “Most of my problems were solved after receiving the PRISM fund. After commercialising the machines, I could sell them not only in India, but in US, Europe, and Russia too. All our revenue was reinvested in research and development work.”

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